ByJohn S. McClenahen Led by a continued increase in petroleum prices, the U.S. Import Price Index rose 0.2% in December, its third consecutive monthly rise, the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Jan. 13. However, December's rise was far less than the 0.5% economists and analysts had generally expected. Prices for petroleum imports rose 1.8% in December, following a 2.1% increase in November and a 1.5% rise in October. From December 2002 through December 2003, import prices for petroleum rose 9.1%, but that figure was a relatively small fraction of the previous year's 56.9% increase. Prices for nonpetroleum imports were up 0.1% in December 2003, one-tenth of a percentage point less than November's 0.2% increase. Prices for U.S. imports rose 1.9% during 2003, less than half their 4.2% increase in 2002. On the other side of the trade ledger, U.S. export prices rose 0.2% in December, less than half their 0.5% increase in November. During 2003, U.S. export prices rose 2.2%, a little more than twice the 1% increase in 2002.